What would you look at if you could see any one thing God sees? Would you watch life in a warmer climate? Would you spy on a relative to ensure they’re okay? Would you see the wonders of the world or look at the depths of the ocean? Imagine what you could do if you could see what God sees!
Today in God’s Word he tells us what he sees, but it’s not all good. Far from the wonders of the world, he sees us for who we really are. But he didn’t leave us that way. As we begin our journey through the season of Lent, we use a series of 3-word sermons. The three words for our meditation today are: THE LORD SAW.
We may think God sits in heaven and sees everything, but the truth is he is present everywhere. He doesn’t have to be in heaven to see it—he’s watching it happen. But does he really see everything? Can he see the skeletons in the closet I would be embarrassed if anyone found out about? Or the time you lied, and the time you hid your faith so you wouldn’t be labeled? What about when we thought we could skip out on following God this time? Or when I found that strangely evil thought in your heart, but didn’t outright dismiss it? Did the LORD see then?
Meanwhile, God’s truth staggers and stumbles in the street. “Yes, truth is lacking.” Anyone who tries to turn from their sinful ways just gets punished for it. People will label you a “Jesus freak.” You’ll be weird. If God really cared, why wouldn’t he come and do something about it? Surely he can’t see—or doesn’t care. Why would a loving God be so demanding? His expectations are unrealistic: be you! Be the you you want to be! Don’t let yourself be defined by some book.
Mom tells her child that if he runs out into the street, he’s going to get a timeout. When that child inevitably ignores mom’s warning, what’s going to happen to him? She sees him, and he goes to timeout. God has clearly spelled out his expectations for us in his Word. How have we lived up to his expectations? God sees.
There are some things we don’t need the LORD to tell us. We are intimately familiar with them. Three words are used in the text: transgression, sin, iniquity. We know them too well. Not just the mistaken words or actions we have done, these transgressions are acts of rebellion against God. Our sins testify against us. So does God. In the courtroom of his law, our sins are all the testimony necessary. Our transgressions are with us. We know our guilt. We haven’t done what is right; any hope we have of doing it is beyond reach. And THE LORD SAW. He has seen all you’ve done. He’s not pleased. No one does what is right. He sees that, to a man, the human race is filthy. He sees we’re guilty as charged.
More amazing even than the multitude of sins he sees is what he doesn’t see. God is astonished because there isn’t a single man left to intercede for the people. No one does what is right. No one. No one can go between us and God.
The saying goes, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” God lived up to those words. He saw the people he made couldn’t meet his expectations. So he gears up for war to make it happen by himself. The LORD’s arm worked salvation, and his righteousness held him to it. He put on the protective helmet of salvation, and the body armor of his righteousness—his own perfection. He puts on his anger over sin and his zeal for his people as he prepares to deal with our sinfulness.
And he repays. His justice comes. The enemies of God take the full blow. Divine retribution falls like a hammer. He sees his enemies. And he destroys them. He repays each according to their deeds. Our deeds say we belong with his enemies. We—the whole world from east to west—rightly respond with fear. He comes like a rushing river. He leaves destruction in his wake. Nothing will stop him. Like disobedient children, we knew the punishment was coming.
THE LORD SAW our sin. He sees our terror. And he came. But he didn’t come to us with weapons of vengeance and violence. He came to Zion, to Jerusalem. Jesus came. He brought wrath down on God’s enemies—but not on you and me. He took the blow himself to buy you back from your sin. Jesus met God’s expectations. Jesus came as Redeemer. And THE LORD SAW
You redeem your points when you spend a certain amount of money at places where you have a membership. But you don’t pay to get the redemption Jesus provides. His redemption was paid by his blood. The recompense that comes from him is a reward, not wrath! THE LORD SAW his payment, and the LORD accepted it! Although our sins testified against us, Jesus’ testimony is greater. He says our sins are paid for. Although your conscience may bother you, although you know your sin, the LORD doesn’t see it anymore! It’s gone!
Jesus came as Redeemer. He calls us to turn away from our sin. In the season of Lent, we repent. That means first of all, not hiding our sins from God. The LORD SEES them anyway. We simply acknowledge our guilt before him. We admit we haven’t done what he told us to do, and we’ve done what he’s told us not to do. We have violated his holy will. But repentance means much more than just feeling sorry for our sins. It means more than having pangs of guilt. It means putting that guilt where it belongs. The LORD spoke. He declared a Redeemer came. Jesus already paid the price for our sins. So leave your guilt with him. He’s paid for it. Leave your sins on his cross. They do you no good now. THE LORD SAW Jesus make the payment. What he has said must be true, so repent! Believe this good news. That’s the second part of repentance. To trust in God’s forgiveness. And finally, we turn from our wicked ways to serve God.
What if you could see what God sees? Better than going to exotic locations or seeing impressive buildings, you would be able to see yourself as God sees you—his redeemed child. And you could tell others this truth. You could tell them that Jesus paid the price for all their wickedness. He has forgiven you and the world on the cross. By God’s grace, you can tell others what God sees. You can tell them of their wickedness, and tell them Jesus paid for it. Tell them to repent! The time will come soon when the LORD will come again. Hearts that repent—that turn from their sins to trust in him—those the LORD WILL SEE as ready. Amen.
57May the LORD our God be with us, just as he was with our fathers. May he never leave us or abandon us. 58May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways (1 Kings 8:57-58a, EHV)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3, EHV)
Therefore, to keep me from becoming arrogant due to the extraordinary nature of these revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, so that I would not become arrogant. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that he would take it away from me 9 And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will be glad to boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may shelter me. 10 That is why I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For whenever I am weak, then am I strong. (EHV)
Now that Pastor Strutz has announced his decision to stay, you may be asking yourself, “Now what?” now? How do we move forward while using the gifts of this congregation as best we can? The world is asking similar questions. No, not about Pastor Strutz’s call decision or the gifts of our congregation. They’re asking how we as people can maximize our strengths. As people study teamwork, different teams try to play to the strengths of individual members. They also try to minimize their weaknesses to eliminate the negative impact they have on the group.
Our text today also treats strengths and weaknesses, but not in the way you might expect. The question remains, how can we maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses? Or can we do even better, MAXIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES? God’s Word has the answer for us.
The apostle Paul had been given an extraordinary gift. In the verses leading up to our text, Paul spoke of visions that took a man up to heaven. As an apostle, Paul had visions much like that. He saw the risen Christ. He received his pastoral training from Jesus in these visions. Jesus called him to be an apostle in these visions. It very easily could have gone to his head. Don’t we think that way, after all?
Who is the most important person in a business? I would imagine that many of us would think of the CEO or the owner, the person who comes up with the plan. They have the power; they make the decisions. They’re the heroes we all aspire to be like.
Don’t we, in the same way, put Paul up on a pedestal? He models our Christian faith, so we think of him as someone truly great? The greatest missionary ever, an incredible scholar of the Scriptures, a lover of people and God’s Word, a prominent teacher in the early church, the apostle of the Lord who wrote nearly half the books of our New Testament? He has an impressive résumé! But then we idolize a hero and forget the rest of Paul: idolater, persecutor of Christ and his Church, murderer, worst of sinners. Have we whitewashed Paul to make him larger than life?
That’s what we see everywhere these days. You see it in movies. You see it in politics, depending on which side of the aisle you sympathize with. Everyone is either a hero or a villain. Just like the superheroes people see on the screens, they expect their own lives will be…larger than life. We all have a deep-seated desire to be special, to be needed, to be important. Don’t we love our heroes and hate our villains because then there’s some hope we can turn things around make our lives better? Can we truly MAXIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES?
God’s answer came to Paul in an unexpected way. Paul, whose life had been turned from sinner to saint, was given a gift. He calls it a “thorn” or a “messenger of Satan.” It was given “to torment” him. It’s painful. Just think of when you get a splinter in your finger: every time you move that finger, you have a sharp reminder that splinter has embedded itself under your skin. It hurts. So also Paul’s thorn hurt. It tormented him.
Naturally, we all want to know what Paul’s thorn was. Throughout the years, hundreds of people have made dozens of guesses about what impairment might have affected Paul. But Scripture never gives us a direct answer. Any guess we make is only a guess. So instead of going beyond what Scripture says, content yourself with what Scripture says: not what Paul’s thorn was,but why Paul’s thorn was. “So that I would not become arrogant,” Paul says.
That may seem like a harsh lesson. Sure, Paul was still a sinner after he came to faith. His writings demonstrate that. But Paul trusted in Jesus as his Savior. Why would a loving God allow Paul to suffer such constant pain that even Paul calls it “torment?” Why would God willingly afflict one of his own, one of the greatest missionaries of all time? Surely Paul knew this already!
Or did he? And perhaps we don’t like it because of what it says about you and me. We are at least as weak as Paul. If Paul had to be kept from arrogance, what does that mean for me? Like Paul or any other Christian, we are susceptible to the attacks of Satan. All too often he convinces us that we are strong enough. And then he maximizes our weaknesses to take advantage of us. At this point, you may be too familiar with the devil’s tactics. He tells us what God wants for us is not good. This thorn God has put in my life—whether it’s cancer or abuse of alcohol or a struggle with same-sex attraction or a giant ego—it’s not good. There’s a grain of truth to that. Wouldn’t life be so much better without that struggle? If God were really good, would he want me to suffer? And the devil exploits our weaknesses. His attacks and wins. Sometimes he may even trick you into thinking he was right. It often seems to us that what God wants isn’t good. What I want is good. And then our own sinful nature agrees with the devil and joins in this attack against God. We are hopelessly and helplessly weak in this struggle.
Paul recognized his own weakness. He turned to the Lord in prayer. Three times he asked the Lord Jesus to take away his thorn. It’s only natural. What do you do when you get a splinter? You remove it. Then the pain goes away. Paul asked for his pain, his thorn, to be removed. He asked for a good thing, and God promises always to give good gifts to his children.
Isn’t that what you would do? If your son had a thorn under his skin, wouldn’t you remove it? Or if your daughter breaks her leg, don’t you take her to the doctor to fix it? Our suffering is bad. So why doesn’t our God remove our suffering? Sometimes his love seems distant and cold. What do you do when you ask God for a good thing and he says, “No”? How do you MAXIMIZE YOUR WEAKNESS?
The Lord came back to Paul with an answer. It’s also an answer for us. He didn’t just say, “No.” He said you have enough. “My grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace, his undeserved love that takes action to save mankind, is enough. That’s all we need to get through our present struggles. Why? Because Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness. That’s where our weaknesses find their completion. In Christ’s power.
God’s grace is sufficient. That’s the beating heart of this section of God’s Word. God’s grace is enough. God’s grace didn’t remain cold and distant with him in heaven. Instead, our Lord was born in weakness. He took on the frailness of human flesh. He set aside full and frequent use of his divine power and instead came to be one of us, a man. Jesus preached, not to the strong and powerful, but to the hopeless and helpless. Instead of maximizing his strength and minimizing his weakness, he showed weakness all the way through. Jesus suffered at the hands of people who rightly belonged under his authority. And like Paul, he too pleaded with his Father three times that his suffering be taken away. Yet he insisted on doing the will of his Father. In his weakness, he never succumbed to the attacks of Satan. Instead, his friend betrayed him, and he answered with love. His friend denied him, and Jesus forgave. Our weaknesses, the sins we commit, led him to the cross. He suffered death to MAXIMIZE YOUR WEAKNESS and give you his own strength. And when he was at his weakest, when he poured out his life into death, his strength reached completion. His power was “made perfect.” On the cross he cried, “It is finished.” That’s where his strength and weakness worked together to accomplish his goal.
And that’s what it means when it says, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” This word, “made perfect” means to reach a goal or fulfill a duty. It means to pay the full price. It means to bring something to completion. Your salvation was brought to completion in the weakness of human flesh. God’s power was on display in the weakness of the cross. There he defeated the devil. There sin’s accusation lost its power, was nailed and buried with Jesus. All so you would know God’s all-sufficient grace is enough in your time of need.
God also called Paul to suffer with Christ. Paul’s weakness, his thorn, found its goal in the weakness of Christ. Christ, who gave his life for Paul, never stopped giving his grace to him. Just like Jesus suffered for Paul, Jesus suffered for you. He gave his life in weakness so that you would be joined to his strength.
Paul was able to delight in his suffering. No, Paul didn’t take pleasure in pain. We don’t have to like punishment. Suffering is still unpleasant. But the new man in Paul, who trusted in Christ’s grace, now saw new purpose in this thorn. God had taught him through this. Paul was able to boast in his weaknesses because he understood Christ’s strength—his grace—dwelled in him and sheltered him from the future attacks of Satan. Christ was with him throughout his life. That’s how Paul could say, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” It’s not like Paul thought weakness was good. He learned to MAXIMIZE HIS WEAKNESS. When Paul was weak, he learned to rely all he more on Jesus. And Jesus, even at his weakest, is stronger than you and I could ever dream of being.
You may wonder why God would allow you to undergo the evils you go through in your life. Learn from Paul. You don’t have to think your “thorns” are pleasant. But learn to rely on God’s grace which is the strongest force in the universe. When he created faith to trust him, he began to rule in your heart. Learn from your weaknesses, because they teach you to go to God. True strength is found in him.
If you knew that all the evil that happened to you was serving for the good of another, would that fact help you cope with it better? Paul understood that. His thorn has provided comfort to believers for centuries. Who knows you may be able to touch through your own weaknesses as Christ works powerfully in you? You can point others to the comfort Christ provides with his grace. Take delight in your weaknesses. They are opportunities to reach out to others with the Lord’s own strength, his grace.
How do we MAXIMIZE OUR STRENGTHS AND MINIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES in this congregation? That may require more work and careful planning, but God’s grace is enough. How will we continue to utilize our gifts in service to Jesus? By keeping ourselves in the strength of God’s grace, as you go back to it in Word and sacrament. As long as the Lord Jesus remains with us, his strength will work powerfully in us. His strength MAXIMIZES YOUR WEAKNESS. Amen.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you— according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, . . . to God, who alone is wise, be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Romans 16:25a, 27, EHV)